Ishwar Ramlutchman vs. The Times


Thu, Oct 26, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

26 October 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Ishwar Ramlutchman and those of Fienie Grobler, executive editor of The Times newspaper.

Ramlutchman, a businessman from Richards Bay, is complaining about a story in The Times of 9 October 2017, headlined King and the Commoner. The article was also carried online.

Complaint                                            

Ramlutchman complains that the:

·         the words “commoner” in the headline, and “fraudster” and “controversial” in the article were offensive and degraded his dignity, and were not relevant to the story; and

·         reportage (mis)used and event, which was meant to foster good relations, to instead divide society.

The text

The article, written by Bongani Mthethwa, said that the Hindu festival Diwali had been hosted by King Goodwill Zwelithini for the first time, but that the idea came from Ramlutchman – “a man who, despite a dodgy past, shares a close relationship with Zwelithini”.

Calling him a “controversial” businessman, the journalist reported that Ramlutchman had been convicted of fraud and corruption for illegally acquiring tenders to the value of R52-million, and had enjoyed a close relationship with the king.

The arguments

Grobler’s only response is that The Times stands by its story, as it is a fact that Ramlutchman was convicted of fraud.

Ramlutchman replies that he is disputing the “framing” of the story, asking why The Times abused this initiative to instead “destroy the good that is taking place by building our country”. He calls this event a nation-building exercise which was “of historic significance in the history of the world”.

He adds that the fraud case already took place in 2013.

Analysis

What Ramlutchman really is asking this office to do, is to find that The Times has breached the Press Code through its “agenda” behind the writing of the story.

Such a consideration falls outside my mandate, as the Code (for valid reasons) does not provide for intentions and motivations which may lie behind reportage. For that reason, I am not even offering an opinion on the “framing” of the story.

I take the word “commoner” to refer to an ordinary person, as opposed to royalty – which made the use of this word justifiable.

For the rest, the article was accurate.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombud